December 19, O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before all peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us.
Jesse’s family tree reached it highest growth in King David and then it became sick and eventually was totally cut off in 586 BC. Isaiah 11:10 promises, “In that day,” a fruit bearing branch shall appear having, “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding…counsel and might…knowledge and fear of the Lord,” resting on it. This will be a signal that the Lord is coming to gather his people from the ends of the earth.
The coming of the Messiah in Jesus is that signal. At his coming at the end of time, all people proclaiming their own power and might will be silenced. Along with poor and the meek they will bow their knee and do homage to the King of Kings.
The prayer which concludes the Bible, Rev. 22:20, is as needed today as ever, “Come Lord Jesus!” Come quickly!
The “O Antiphon” for December 18 is, O Adonai (sacred Lord) and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.
On cold winter days in northern Wisconsin we would work in the woods. Dad would set a big brush pile on fire to provide warmth. I’m not sure what we would have done, if God spoke from the burning brush.
However, God called to Moses out of a burning bush. Moses answered, “Here I am.” However, the conversation quickly degenerated as Moses offered excuses for being a desirable choice to deliver Israel “out of the hand of the Egyptians.” “Send someone else,” he pleaded
Wouldn’t you have willingly and faithfully obeyed the Lord’s command? Well then, why don’t we obey him now? After all, we have been delivered from slavery to sin through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The Lord did send someone else. He sent Jesus, who stretched out his arm on the cross and bought us back from slavery to sin and death.
John the Baptizer’s father, Zechariah, sang after the birth of his son, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” His son would go on to be a voice in the wilderness announcing that God would soon visit his people in the person of Jesus. Jesus would bring redemption from sin. He would be a mighty power for salvation, the fulfillment of all the OT prophets.
However, not everyone has gotten the message. Yesterday, Becky taped envelopes for the trashmen on our trash and recycling bins. Becky just doesn’t use scotch tape. She uses packing box tape, enough to hold those envelopes in place through an F five tornado. But alas, some real – life Grinch visited during the night and helped themselves to the “thank you” gifts intended for those who serve us.
Lord, may you visit all Grinches with your grace. Thankfully you are a gracious God, we aren’t quite there yet.
Twice, they ask John the Witness, “Who are you?” In the Gospel lesson, (John 1) John is, “John the Witness and Voice.” In a selfie world, those who would be our leaders tend to call attention to themselves. Not only politicians, but religious leaders, entertainers (how many award shows do we need?) sports figures (note: end zone antics). John provides a lesson in leadership.
John knows who he is. He is not the light of a dawning new creation. He points us to the light, who was there when the first light dawned, the Christ, who is Jesus. He is the voice in the world’s wilderness not calling attention to himself but leading the lost to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, in Jesus. He is not a selfie person, rather he points us to One of whom he isn’t worthy even to be his foot servant.
John leads us to our true leader, the One of whom we ask in song, “Christ, be my leader by night as by day.” John the Witness says of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” As we prayed: “Lord Jesus Christ, we implore you…to lighten the darkness of our hearts by your gracious visitation.”
December 17 has long marked the beginning of the “Great O” antiphons that have been used in the Vespers service, perhaps as early as the seventh century. Wisdom is the subject of the first antiphon.
O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth
Of the Most high, pervading and
Permeating all creation, mightily
Ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Wisdom is the gift of wise practical living in uprightness, justice and fairness. In wisdom, God created the world, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens (Proverbs 3:19-20).” For us, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Only “fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prv. 1:7).”
Jesus, the son of God, was acquainted with wisdom and as he grew into human flesh, Luke tells us, “He became strong, filled with wisdom (Luke 2:40).” Therefore, it ought not to surprise us that God would create our salvation with wisdom also. He used wisdom which confounded human wisdom. He sent his Son to be crucified for us and for our salvation. He did this so that no one could boast in God’s presence that he did it himself. We are left with no other alternative but to point to the cross and say, “God did it for us all.”
Recently, in my Friday morning Bible Class we encountered the parable of the Wedding Feast in which a man is thrown out because he wasn’t dressed properly. (Matt. 22) So what should he have worn?
We learn this weekend in Isaiah 61:10, it’s not anything we can buy or rent in a tuxedo shop. The proper attire is given by God. “For he clothed me with the garments of salvation; he covered me with the robe of righteousness.” God gave us our proper attire in baptism. He dressed us in Jesus, God’s deliverer/savior. Perhaps our parents dressed us in something special for our baptism. But God wrapped us in blamelessness.
Salvation and righteousness are not something we wear only on special occasions. They are our everyday clothes, that we wear as we interact with other people at home, or at work or in social settings. Thus, through the Holy Spirit, these garments influence how we treat others. And if Christ comes when we least expect it, we are already dressed up for the eternal banquet.
Thoughts from Reinhold Niebuhr while we wait for Christ’s coming.
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime;
Therefore, we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
Therefore, we must be saved by love.
No virtuous acts is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.
Therefore, we must be saved by…forgiveness.
The Gospel of Mark
One day I asked a noon bible class I taught at Holy Cross, “What would Christmas be like, if we only had the Gospel of Mark?”
No Mary and Joseph, no manger, no heavenly host, no shepherds no wise men. Just this, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He immediately (Immediately is a big word in Mark) jumps to John the Baptist’ ministry and the baptism of the thirty-year-old Jesus. Immediately, the Holy Spirit drives Jesus to his temptation followed by the announcement, “The time if fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel.”
No time to dilly dally. It’s time to turn around and trust what God is doing through Jesus. In sixteen hurried chapters, Mark recalls Jesus’ ministry. Finally, on Sunday morning when the women go to the tomb to complete Jesus’ burial, it’s too late. “He is not here,” a young man informs them. They are to tell the disciples to meet Jesus back in Galilee.
The women flee in panic, trembling, astonished and speechless. So, Mark’s Gospel ends. Now a better ending is in our hands. But it’s not the end. For us, it’s the beginning. To go forth and live and speak of this astonishing good news.
December 13 marks the day to remember St. Lucy. She lived in Syracuse in Sicily and died at a young age during the persecutions against the Christians under the reign of Emperor Diocletian in the years following 303. The name Lucy comes from the Latin word lux, “light.”
Artist’s depictions show Lucy dressed in a white baptismal gown wearing a wreath of candles on her head. In Scandinavian countries, St. Lucy is celebrated during cold, dark days of winter with roaring fires and the lighting of Lucy candles. In many homes the oldest daughter would rise early to serve the family coffee and sweet rolls.
The fourth stanza of LSB 515 “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers” will provide an ending hope.
Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear; Arise, O Sun so longed for, o’er this benighted sphere. With hearts and hands uplifted, we plead, O Lord, to see the day of earth’s redemption that sets Your people free!
In 168/167 Antiochus Epiphanies ordered pigs to be sacrifice to Zeus in the temple at Jerusalem. His atrocities led to the Maccabean revolt; the sacrilege in the temple continued for 2 and one – half years. In 164, the Maccabees retook Jerusalem and purified the temple and established Hanukkah.
I Maccabees 4:
Then Judas Maccabeus and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies have been crushed let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.” They found the sanctuary desolated, the altar desecrated, the gates burnt, weeds growing in the courts…and the priests chambers demolished.
Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Chislev, they arose and offered sacrifice according to the law on the new altar of holocausts they had made. On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled it, on that very day it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes and cymbals.
For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered holocausts and sacrifices of deliverance and praise. They ornamented the façade of the temple with gold crowns and shields; they repaired the gates and the priests’ chambers and furnished them with doors. There was great joy among the people now that the disgrace of the Gentiles was removed.
From a Jewish Prayer book: Blessed is the Lord our God, ruler of the universe, for you have kept us, sustained us, and brought us to this holy season.